Don Carson asks, “What is the most urgent need in the church of the Western world today?” We could probably make quite a list! But Carson answers his own question as follows: “We need to know God better.” He quickly adds, “One of the foundational steps in knowing God, and one of the basic demonstrations that we do know God, is prayer – spiritual, persistent, biblically minded prayer.”
“Prayer is the breath of the new creature,” writes Richard Baxter. What does he mean? When a baby is born, he cries for his mother. When we’re born again, we cry for God. It’s a cry of longing: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Ps. 73:25).
I’m convinced that one of the best ways to learn to pray is by studying Paul’s prayers and prayer requests. Romans 15:30–33 is a case in point.
“I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. May the God of peace be with you all. Amen.”
Why we pray
“I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit.” Paul uses the term “appeal” (ESV) or “beg” (NKJV). The same word is found in Romans 12:1. Just as Paul appeals to the Roman Christians to present themselves to God as living sacrifices, so he appeals to them to pray earnestly for his ministry.
Paul gives two incentives to pray. The first: “by our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul is reminding them of who Christ is: “our Lord.” “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18). Christ rules the universe for the good of His church. The second: “by the love of the Spirit.” Paul is reminding them of the love that God has poured into their hearts through the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5).
What an incentive to pray! God has a ruling Son and a loving Spirit, who are able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think (Eph. 3:20).
How we pray
“I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf.” In short, we’re to “strive” in prayer. Why? There are a host of things that keep us from prayer: the cares of the world; the schemes of the devil; and the lusts of the flesh.
Striving arises from a burden. That’s why crises tend to drive us to our knees. The phone rings at two in the morning with bad news. We’re on our knees. The test result comes back. It doesn’t look good. We’re on our knees. But why isn’t it like that all the time? We don’t always see how critical things really are. We don’t always perceive our greatest needs. We need wisdom to endure trials and strength to overcome temptations. We need to abound in faith, hope, and love. We need illumination to see the glory of God’s power, wisdom, and goodness. We need a heightened appreciation of Christ. When we remember that all human effort lies prostrate before the throne of God’s providence, we’ll strive in prayer.
What we pray
Paul inserts an important phrase in his prayer: “by God’s will.” He has plans to visit Rome. He prays that those plans will come to fruition, but he knows that God’s will must be done. That teaches us how to pray. In the words of Thomas Manton, “Prayer is the offering up of our desires to God, in the name of Christ, for such things as are agreeable to his will.” And so, we pray that ...
God blesses the preaching and teaching of His Word, and creates in us an insatiable appetite for His Word.
God guards us from any scandal that would sully our witness, and keeps us from error, idolatry, apathy, and worldliness.
God cultivates discipleship among us, to such a degree that it becomes normal and natural – fathers discipling sons, mothers discipling daughters, friends discipling friends.
God enables us to share the gospel boldly, regularly, and faithfully, and stirs in us an eagerness, earnestness, fearlessness, and willingness to proclaim the good news of salvation.
God equips us to do good in our various callings, and turns us into the best husbands, fathers, wives, mothers, workers, bosses, neighbours, friends, and citizens, as we seek to live as an act of worship – the death of self in the interest of Christ-likeness.
God turns our homes into places of gospel-centredness whereby it’s evident in the relationship between husband and wife, parent and child.
God strengthens us to love our enemies – even those who persecute us. God shows us that the most dangerous threat to us isn’t the sin in this world, but the sin in our hearts.
God maintains our unity, and stirs in us a love for people who share nothing in common with us except their love of Christ.
God stirs us to give consistently, faithfully, joyfully, and sacrificially, and nurtures in us a zeal for the spread of his glory among the nations.
God sustains us in the darkest nights, enabling us to see that we only reach the heights of blessedness through the valleys of despair and that temporal suffering isn’t worth comparing to future glory.
God convinces us to value everything according to His eternal glory, not our earthly happiness.
Paul concludes his prayer with these words: “May the God of peace be with you all. Amen.” This title “God of peace” is a description of God as He stands in relation to His people (16:20; 2 Cor. 13:11; Phil. 4:9; 1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Thess. 3:16).
First, it’s a description of God as our King. He’s the “God of peace” by virtue of providence. God keeps all things in existence, causes all things to act as they do, and directs all things to their appointed end. He governs the snow-flake and the supernova. This brings peace. “The peace of God is that eternal calm which lies far too deep in the praying, trusting soul to be reached by any external disturbances” (A. T. Pierson).
Second, it’s a description of God as our Father. He’s the “God of peace” by virtue of salvation. “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:2). We’re no longer God’s enemies. This peace is achieved by Christ’s atoning work on the cross. We stand on a firm foundation: God’s grace to us in Christ. Therefore, we approach God as our reconciled Father. In Christ, the sinful failings of our best actions aren’t scrutinized by a severe Judge, but accepted by a loving Father. In Christ, we draw near to God with comfort and confidence. In Christ, we pray to God with boldness. In Christ, we cry out to God as children cry out to their father. “Prayer,” says Thomas Watson, “is the soul’s breathing itself into the bosom of its heavenly Father.”